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I’ve Waited Years For A Book Like This

A review of Beth Kephart's Small Damages, a book you should read RIGHT NOW. It's about love and loss and living, and there's not a paranormal anything to be found. THANK GOD.

I’ve Waited Years For A Book Like This
Maybe my favorite trick of the writing is how Kenzie's narration is exquisite -- full of imagery and poetry -- but when she opens her mouth, she sounds just like any 18-year-old girl, full of belligerent ohs, uh-huhs, whys, and what ifs. The contrast between her inner self and what the world sees is a mirror of adolescent life, and it's brilliant.

BOOK REPORT for Small Damages by Beth Kephart

Cover Story: Orange You Lovely!
BFF Charm: Platinum
Swoonworthy Scale: 7
Talky Talk: Lyrical
Bonus Factors: Spain, Kickass Gram, Tasty Business
Relationship Status: True Love

Cover Story: Orange You Lovely!

Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who's there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who's there? Orange? Orange who? Orange you glad there's a decent cover designer out there? This one's nice and low-key, and representative of the book without trying to re-tell the book. Besides, I REALLY love oranges.

The Deal:

Do yourself a favor, and don't go into this book knowing any more than this: It's summer after senior year, and Kenzie's mother is shipping her off to Spain -- no discussion, no arguments, and since her father died, no one to whom she can appeal. That's all you need to know, and while there's nothing particularly spoilery in the various blurbs out there, it's more delicious to let Kephart slowly unveil Kenzie's story and secrets than to get the first 30 pages distilled in jacket copy.

BFF Charm: Platinum

Kenzie is marvelous. She's magnificent. She has both an artist's perception of the world and a teenager's self-absorbed blindness; Kenzie's not mean or selfish, but it takes time for her to see past her own (admittedly huge) concerns and sympathize with others. But she's funny and kind, and she really does care, and I'd love to carefully wrap my arm around her and help her heal, because I think she's definite BFF material.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Kenzie's boyfriend Kevin was her best friend for a million years, and he's charming and smart and all the girls love him. But. But! When Kenzie's in Spain, she meets Esteban, who charms birds and horses and who knows when telling his story would overshadow Kenzie's, and when she needs to hear it in order to understand her own. Southern Spain is hot enough without Kenzie and Esteban adding sizzling sexual tension to the mix.

Talky Talk: Lyrical

Kephart's writing is gorgeous -- I wanted to highlight every passage in this book. She shares the story out drop by drop, slowly teasing out each character's tale in a way that made me want to devour the book in mere hours, but also savor it and let it unfold slowly. I could smell and taste the dusty ranch outside Seville where Kenzie spends her exile, and feel every prick of her pain.

When I open the door, a nun blackbirds by, and I keep walking out into the air, which smells like fruit and sun and the color blue; it smells like blue in Seville.

Blackbirds by! See what I mean?

The first night after my father died, the wind started howling and wouldn't stop. It banged the trash cans out into the street and U-turned the limbs of the trees and scorched the canopy straight off the side porch, and this was before my mother had found her talent for exerting power over things. So that she stood at one end of the house, and I stood at the other until it was my father I heard in the wind, speaking to me and me only. He howled and howled until he'd blown a tunnel through my heart, a black, blank wilderness that rattles.

Maybe my favorite trick of the writing is how Kenzie's narration is exquisite -- full of imagery and poetry -- but when she opens her mouth, she sounds just like any 18-year-old girl, full of belligerent ohs, uh-huhs, whys, and what ifs. The contrast between her inner self and what the world sees is a mirror of adolescent life, and it's brilliant.

Bonus Factor: Spain

Normally, when a YA character complains about being forced to go to a foreign country, I'm all, "Oh, BOO HOO," but I'm cutting Kenzie some slack here. However, I DO think Spain sounds AMAZING! The place she's staying is a ranch belonging to the top cattle breeder for the bullfights, and it's dusty and hot and has an olive grove and horses and exotic birds and just generally sounds incredible.

Bonus Factor: Kickass Gram

The ranch, Los Nietos, has three occupants -- Miguel, the owner; Esteban, the horse boy; and Estalita, the cook. Kenzie has to help Estalita out in the kitchen while she's staying at Los Nietos, and the cranky old woman and the American girl butt heads, but develop a deep and sweet friendship over the secrets of paella. Which leads me to ...

Bonus Factor: Tasty Business

OMG the food! Estalita's always making something amazing, from stuffed sardines (it sounds gross until you read the description) and a million other tapas to paella and fried ribs and OMG I AM SO HUNGRY.

Casting Call:

Emma Stone as Kenzie

I'm not sure Emma Stone can bring the depth to Kenzie needed, but she's the best I could think of who could capture her feisty, stubborn spirit.

Gael García Bernal as Esteban

He's not Spanish, but Mexican, but still. He's Gael García Bernal!

Relationship Status: True Love

I waited a long time for this book. I went out with vampire books, even long after I was tired of vampire books. I flirted with some contemporaries from boys' POV. I even started dipping back into adult books! But none of them had what I was looking for -- until now. This book has everything I love: gorgeous prose, tingly romance, heartbreak, a strong heroine. I know we're going to be together for a long time.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Penguin. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Small Damages is available now.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.